A New Tool Could Make Fingerprint Analysis More Reliable

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iStock

Contrary to what many would like to believe, fingerprint evidence isn't all that reliable. Partial prints and smudged prints can be difficult to read, and in the U.S. at least, fingerprint analysis is left to individual interpretation rather than a set of standards outlining what can be considered a match.

That could soon change, though. A statistical tool developed by a Department of Defense analyst is able to take two fingerprints and tell how probable it is that they came from the same person, according to Gizmodo. The software program, called FRStat, was used in a courtroom for the first time in February and is now available to any lab that wants to test it out.

Henry Swofford, of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory at the Department of Defense, spent four years working with statisticians to develop the software. It works by comparing images of the small features of fingerprint minutiae (ridges) against "similarly marked, known matches" in a database. The software is then able to calculate the likelihood that the prints were left by the same individual. A paper outlining the statistical method was published in the journal Forensic Science International.

"I want to strengthen the foundations of our science," Swofford told Gizmodo. "I also want to make sure the evidence is presented in a way that the guilty people are convicted, and the innocent are exonerated."

A 2011 study found a false positive rate of 0.1 percent among fingerprint readings, and there have been numerous high-profile cases of wrongful convictions over the years. In one example, Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer from Oregon, was arrested in connection with the 2004 Madrid train bombing after four experts agreed that his prints matched ones found on a bag at the scene. He was eventually released after that proved to be a mistake.

While FRStat isn't the first technology that attempts to make fingerprint analysis more accurate, it's the first one that has been developed for widespread, practical usage, according to Gizmodo.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Now Ear This: A New App Can Detect a Child's Ear Infection

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iStock.com/Techin24

Generally speaking, using an internet connection to diagnose a medical condition is rarely recommended. But technology is getting better at outpacing skepticism over handheld devices guiding decisions and suggesting treatment relating to health care. The most recent example is an app that promises to identify one of the key symptoms of ear infections in kids.

The Associated Press reports that researchers at the University of Washington are close to finalizing an app that would allow a parent to assess whether or not their child has an ear infection using their phone, some paper, and some soft noises. A small piece of paper is folded into a funnel shape and inserted into the ear canal to focus the app's sounds (which resemble bird chirps) toward the child’s ear. The app measures sound waves bouncing off the eardrum. If pus or fluid is present, the sound waves will be altered, indicating a possible infection. The parent would then receive a text from the app notifying them of the presence of buildup in the middle ear.

The University of Washington tested the efficacy of the app by evaluating roughly 50 patients scheduled to undergo ear surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The app was able to identify fluid in patients' ears about 85 percent of the time. That’s roughly as well as traditional exams, which involve visual identification as well as specialized acoustic devices.

While the system looks promising, not all cases of fluid in the ear are the result of infections or require medical attention. Parents would need to evaluate other symptoms, such as fever, if they intend to use the app to decide whether or not to seek medical attention. It may prove most beneficial in children with persistent fluid accumulation, a condition that needs to be monitored over the course of months when deciding whether a drain tube needs to be placed. Checking for fluid at home would save both time and money compared to repeated visits to a physician.

The app does not yet have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and there is no timetable for when it might be commercially available. If it passes muster, it would join a number of FDA-approved “smart” medical diagnostic tools, including the AliveKor CardiaBand for the Apple Watch, which conducts EKG monitoring for heart irregularities.

[h/t WGRZ]

Uber Passengers Can Now Shush Their Drivers with a Mute Button

Spencer Platt, Getty Images
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Even friendly and sociable people don't always feel like talking, especially if it's late, they're sad, or they're in the middle of an arduous trip. For customers of the ride-sharing service app Uber, there's now a way to terminate conversation with drivers. You simply push a button on your phone and request they stop talking.

This slightly dystopian feature is part of Uber Black, the app's premium interface for people looking for a ride in a luxury vehicle and drivers with top satisfaction ratings. If a passenger isn't in the mood for chatting, hitting "quiet preferred" on the app will notify the driver to stop speaking. They can also opt for "happy to chat" if they care to engage in conversation. It's part of a bundle of features that also allows users to ask for help with their luggage, request more time to get to the vehicle, or adjust the temperature inside the car.

The button is an attempt by Uber to address some of the ambiguity surrounding the relationship between driver and passenger for the service, which allows both parties to rate the other on the overall experience. Some passengers have felt that being uninterested in speaking to their driver might lead to a lower score.

The quiet button might eventually be rolled out to encompass all of Uber's platforms. If the idea of a human mute button is uncomfortable, passengers can also choose "no preference" and let conversation—or the lack of it—takes its natural course.

[h/t Vox]

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